Premise: While on vacation on the Nile, Hercule Poirot must investigate the murder of a young heiress.
 

Kenneth Branagh’s follow-up to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express finds Agatha Christie’s iconic detective Hercule Poirot entangled in a murder plot aboard a cruise ship on the Nile. Adapted from Christie’s 1937 novel, Death on the Nile is an exercise in laborious plotting, weak characterization, and astonishingly poor visual effects. As a murder mystery, it suffers from an overabundance of motives and red herrings that are too easily introduced and dismissed. While Branagh does bring some slight pathos and intrigue to his portrayal of Poirot in the film, it’s not enough to leave a worthwhile impression.

The film opens with a prologue following a young Poirot in the trenches of World War I. His wit and cunning saves many lives but still results in casualties. This bit of backstory carries some weight to Poirot’s arc, as he struggles to keep the ship’s passengers safe while deducing who the killer is, but it falls flat in the grand scheme of the film. It all hinges on his friendship with Bouc (Tom Bateman, reprising), whose overbearing mother is also aboard the ship, but doesn’t extend past it. The result is a cast of suspects who have little to no bearing or connection to Poirot and his arc.

The film follows up the World War I segment with an interlude that features the young Poirot recovering from injuries. It introduces a failed romance in his past that is meant to provide context to Poirot’s emotional state on the cruise. To a certain extent, it succeeds in giving our protagonist some background. Death on the Nile, unfortunately, does not devote the time and energy this particular bit of backstory needs to thrive in the film’s closing moments.

Filming and post-production on Death on the Nile was reportedly completed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic did cause several release date changes, pushing an expected 2020 release all the way into 2022. Despite the long delay in release, the visual effects used in several of the scenes shot on shore are distractingly poor. Even though the green screen effects become a non-issue once the Karnak ship is introduced, it does cast a pall on the first act that’s hard to overcome.

The titular death isn’t as intriguing a case as one would expect from such a high profile detective character. The film doesn’t allocate enough time to set up the suspects and their motives before the murder occurs. In fact, there’s an obnoxiously rapid-fire scene in which a character gives a brief overview of each character’s conflict and drama with Gal Gadot’s heiress, Linnet. It’s far too brief to leave an impression and muddies the murder mystery fun for the audience.

That’s not to say the film itself is brief. Death on the Nile runs a poorly paced 127 minutes. The murder occurs after a preponderance of prologues, red herrings, and weak character introductions. Once Poirot goes into detective mode and works the case, the film transitions into slightly less of a slog. However, it’s not enough to save an ultimately unbalanced movie. In fact, the film’s biggest turn of the plot comes at a point that feels more like the story’s climax rather than something meant to usher the film into its third act.

When Poirot does reach the point where he is ready to solve the case, it comes with a whimper. The resolution is fun enough, though viewers who want to solve the mystery will likely have an easy time with it, given some lazily dropped clues throughout it. The resolution of Poirot’s arc itself is unsatisfying as well. The finale chooses between two Poirot backstories in the film’s prologue and offers a conclusion to it that feels unearned.

Branagh is fine enough as Poirot and the supporting cast is serviceable, at best. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if Branagh continues to adapt Christie’s stories and reprise the role. The sandbox suits him, even if the finished product isn’t satisfying. If he does make more Poirot films, we can only hope there’s a bit more care taken to make the film engaging. For now, Death on the Nile doesn’t offer enough intrigue to live up to its source material’s pedigree.

Death on the Nile opens in theaters February 11th.


About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive ViewerAnthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.